Working Papers

Something finished comes from something unfinished.

Sketches for the painting. Drafts for the writer.

Once in a while, these things are available for public scrutiny. One writer tells me of his time in the British Museum studying edited manuscripts, Charles Dickens, for example, splayed right before him. It was access to the writer’s thinking—his cross outs, his additions—and in his own hand, which in itself can be revealing.

How’d the master do it? Take a look.

But absent the ability to peruse working papers, a student can still copy as a means of learning.

Some choose Hemingway to better understand the power of a simple sentence. Joan Didion tells of her husband, John Gregory Dunne’s copying out portions of William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice to see how the author “worked it out.”

When you stop to look—clinically, curiously—it’s remarkable what you can learn.

Photo credit: Ms page – Beinecke Flickr Laboratory; paparazzi – blog-blond.blogsppot.com.